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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Emily Jane Young

Interview by Karen Craigo (Read the Story) March 19, 2018

Emily Jane Young

Photograph by Ryoji Iwata

The heart is a somewhat problematic subject. It’s been palpated by some of the least adept hands ever to hold a pen. Show me a heart in a writing workshop, and I’m likely to show you the bottom whites of my eyes as I exhale and stare up into the roof of my skull. Which is to say … why the heart?

Cliché or not, the heart is the thing driving us as humans. That’s why people keep writing about it, competently or not. In this piece, I wanted to take the familiar idea of a person’s heart deviating from the course the person was originally on and push it past metaphorically into literally. And I wanted to write about blood and guts without physical trauma.

OK, I’ll give it to you. I love what you did with the heart. Now, what can you do with any other bodily organ of your choice? Please provide the thumbnail sketch of a story about, say, a pancreas.

You’ve got to choose your organs carefully. I don’t think there is enough potential for motivation or emotional intelligence in the pancreas to make a story personifying it that wouldn’t just end up as a humor bit (anyone reading this is welcome to consider that a challenge). Not that there’s anything wrong with humor, but give me the brain or the lungs or the central nervous system, and I’ll get you a real story.

I think a lot about different parts of the brain. What about a neuron that has a crush on the next neuron and is too shy to transmit a dopamine signal, and the whole world (or human in this case) falls apart due to lack of motivation? I don’t really know enough about dopamine to write that story right now, but it’s the sort of thing I would write.

Have you ever experienced any variety of parasomnia? Please describe.

I sleep like a baby. A still, silent baby. Stories of other people getting into some weird sleep business have always intrigued me, though. My best friend apparently tells her partner all kinds of strange tales in her sleep. I should be so lucky.

What larger project do you have going on at present? Is “Parasomnia” part of it?

“Parasomnia,” like the cheese, stands alone. I am currently working on a novel that centers around the employees of a restaurant, part of which focuses on a fictional, selective memory-erasing drug, which is why I keep learning things about how brains work. You can find a chapter of it in the anthology Be Wilder, under the title “The Umbrellas.”

Crushed gingko berries are the worst smell. Name your least favorite smell, sound, texture, and taste. Bonus points for your least favorite word.

Smell: Stale cat urine (it gets worse with age!).

Sound: Fork tines dragged across unglazed pottery.

Texture: An unexpected, cold, caramelized onion.

Taste: Earwax, mold.

Least favorite word: I won’t say because it’s thankfully falling out of fashion and I don’t want a popularity spike when you publish this, but it is a portmanteau that rhymes with “estimate” and it also means “estimate” and it’s as pointless in its existence as it is painful to my ears. On a related note, a friend of mine hates the word “chunk” and recently requested that I say “chunk” to her every time she says “word,” because she thinks she says “word” too much.


About the Author

Emily Jane Young is a creative writing professor at Maine College of Art and is director of the reading series Word Portland in Portland, ME. She has written for The Portland Phoenix and Chart, and her fiction can be found in the anthologies I Could Be Here Now and Be Wilder.

About the Interviewer

Karen Craigo is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Passing Through Humansville and No More Milk, both published by Sundress Publications, and of three chapbooks. She also writes fiction and essays. Professionally, she is a reporter in Springfield, Missouri, for Springfield Business Journal. She is nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review and poetry series editor for Moon City Press, as well as Prose Poetry Editor for Pithead Chapel. She served as the fifth Poet Laureate of Missouri (2019-21).

About the Artist

Find more of Ryoji Iwata‘s photography on Unsplash.

This interview appeared in Issue Fifty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Nine

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